The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that the whereabouts of thousands of Eritrean refugees remained unknown two weeks after their camp came under attack in Ethiopia’s northern Afar region.
Armed men entered the Barahle refugee camp on February 3, prompting 21,000 Eritrean inhabitants to flee for their lives. More than 4,000 trekked the long distance to Afar’s regional capital, Semera.
Upon arrival, the refugees told the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, that the armed intruders had stolen their belongings and occupied their homes. They reported at least five refugees had been killed and several women kidnapped.
UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov said family members lost one another in the chaos of fleeing the camp. He said thousands of Eritrean refugees were staying with host families but nothing was known about thousands of others who remained missing.
“Since mid-September when violence started to intensify in the area of the camp, we lost access and our staff had to pull back, which means we have not had precise information, including on these attacks … ,” Cheshirkov said. “We are extremely worried about those that are cut off from aid and have not been accounted for so far.”
Campsite being prepared
Cheshirkov said agencies were providing the refugees in Semera with shelter, relief items, food and clean water. He said protection desks had been set up to identify and assist the most vulnerable refugees, separated children and others with specific needs.
He said the government had identified a temporary campsite and preparations were being made to quickly relocate the refugees there.
“UNHCR remains extremely worried about the safety and well-being of thousands of Eritrean refugees caught up in the conflict,” Cheshirkov said. “We condemn the attack on the refugee camp and reiterate the call for cessation of hostilities to avoid further destruction and potential loss of life for refugees and Ethiopians alike.”
Ethiopian government forces invaded the northern province of Tigray to fight rebels in November 2020. The conflict has since spread to the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, wreaking havoc in those areas as well.
The UNHCR said there are also large numbers of internally displaced Ethiopians in the Afar region, including 300,000 uprooted by the recent fighting.